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Haftka's Helicopter Project: Combined Theoretical/Experimental Design

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.305.1 - 3.305.12

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William H. Mason

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2202 Haftka’s Helicopter Project: Combined Theoretical/Experimental Design

William H. Mason Aerospace and Ocean Engineering Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Blacksburg, VA 24061


A helicopter design project is described that combines computational modeling, optimization, design of experiments theory, fabrication, test, and analysis of the results, including statistical analysis. This is all done in a classroom environment in a reasonable number of class periods. Originally introduced by Professor Rafi Haftka at the University of Florida, this paper describes the version of the project carried out in the Fall of 1997 at Virginia Tech. The purpose of this paper is to expose a wide spectrum of educators to this project. Our experience with this project was very good and we provide enough details to allow easy implementation elsewhere.


Real world product development efforts require analytic models, analytical/computational design and an experimental development program to produce a quality product. It is a challenge to find a class project that simulates the flavor of this process. At the University of Florida, Professor Raphael Haftka has introduced a project that serves this purpose in his senior/graduate 1 level course “Experimental Optimum Engineering Design”. In the Fall of 1997 a simplified version of the project was used in the “Introduction to AOE Design” course at Virginia Tech after Professor Haftka sent us a draft version of a paper describing the project .The project is perfectly suited for use in engineering design and product development classes, and the ASEE Conference provides an opportunity to make a wide spectrum of educators aware of this project. One of the key components in the class is the use of statistical methods. Although industry has been requesting more use of statistics in the engineering program, many aerospace engineering courses are still weak in the use of statistical methods. This project builds on previous projects used in the statistics community to illustrate design of experiments theory and process variation.2,3 The project is also multidisciplinary, an aspect of engineering we have been stressing at Virginia Tech for several years.4 I am aware of one other similar project. The U.S. Air Force Academy has used design of experiments theory to develop a test matrix for gliders.5 Previously in the “Introduction to AOE Design” course we had used experimental projects with a very weak math model basis. They included a tower project introduced by Kim Aaron of JPL/Cal Tech at a USRA meeting, and balsa wood gliders. For students without any aerodynamics or stability and control courses, the balsa wood glider was built without an adequate theoretical motivation to provide significant insight. In addition, finding a controlled environment to fly planes during the class period is essentially impossible. Thus the project


Mason, W. H. (1998, June), Haftka's Helicopter Project: Combined Theoretical/Experimental Design Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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